Hey, Sister!July 18, 2008
There has been plenty of talk this week about the centennial convention of the AKAs and the fact that Michelle Obama has accepted an honorary membership into the historically black sorority. That “news” sparked heated debate and not-so-polite conversations on the bulletin boards of the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. In my mind, an equally interesting discussion would focus on the mothers of Alpha Kappa Alpha and what their lives were like in 1908.
Coming together on the campus of Howard University, those women were just a generation removed from slavery. Being a history buff, I wanted to know more about 1908, what was going on with the sorority and in society at large. Turns out, that year was fascinating on many different levels. Thanks to Jim Rasenberger, author of America 1908, I have a clearer picture, which actually involves animal waste. That’s just one reason why folks were excited about the debut of the Model T Ford. Compared to horses, the automobile was seen as the cleaner way to travel, especially since thousands of New Yorkers had died from “maladies that fly in the dust, created mainly by horse manure.”
Meanwhile, in Chicago one woman caused a near riot on May 23, 1908, for wearing racy clothes, while another in Springfield started a race war some weeks later after she falsely accused a black man of assaulting her. That, Rasenberger says, galvanized a multiracial group of men and women to start the NAACP. Among them: Ida Wells-Barnett, W. E. B. DuBois, and Jane Addams (who would later become an honorary member of AKA).
Fast-forward to today, I’m seeing AKAs in their pink and green all over D.C. I almost want to shout, “Hey, Sister!” Even though it’s language we occasionally employ at AAUW, I resist using it with the conventioneers because I’m not an AKA, but AKAs and members of AAUW, NAACP, and related organizations have a lot in common: a proud history of breaking barriers. We’re not resting on our laurels, though. Just check out some of the latest headlines: “Equal Pay for Equal Work Is Fair,” “Sorority Leads March for Change,”“The ‘Guiding Light’ of Alpha Kappa Alpha,” “Delegates at NAACP Convention Size Up McCain,” and “Obama Tells NAACP Blacks Must Take Responsibility.”